Monday, April 30, 2012

T is for Trujillo


My A-Z of the Dominican Republic continues with letter T and Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina who was the President of the Dominican Republic for 30 years.  As Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, and we went to the cinema to see ‘101 Dalmatians’ and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, Trujillo was busy being one of the worst tyrants ever in the history of Latin America, responsible for the deaths of over 50,000 people.


Trujillo was born on 24 October 1891 in San Cristobal, to the west of the capital Santo Domingo, and was the third of eleven children in a working class family. His grandmother was Haitian and later in life he wore pancake make-up to lighten the traces of colour he had inherited from her. As a child he was a petty thief and also liked to collect  bottle tops which were called chapitas and so he was known as El Chapita. He hated the name and when he became President he banned the word from the vocabulary.
He had various jobs including a telegraph operator, but when the US invaded the Dominican Republic in 1916 they established a National Guard which he joined. He rose rapidly through the ranks to become a Lieutenant and then a General and in May 1930, using strong arm tactics he won the elections and was declared President.
From the start he used brutal oppression of actual or perceived members of any opposition and his death squad would drive through the streets in a red Packard, known as the death car.


He was obsessed with race and status and in 1937 was told that the Haitians in the border area were taking jobs away from Dominicans, especially in the sugar industry, and were stealing animals and crops. On 2 October 1937, whilst drunk at a party in Dajabon on the border with Haiti he gave orders for the solution to the Haitian problem by saying,

 “To the Dominicans who were complaining of the depredations by Haitians living among them, thefts of cattle, provisions, fruits, etc., and were thus prevented from enjoying in peace the products of their labour, I have responded, ‘I will fix this.’ And we have already begun to remedy the situation. Three hundred Haitians are now dead in B├ínica. This remedy will continue”


All along the border, Trujillo's men asked anyone with dark skin to identify sprigs of parsley which they held up. Haitians have problems with the ‘r’ in the Spanish word for parsley, "perejil." If they could not pronounce it, they were killed with machetes which the Dominican soldiers used so they could say the carnage was the work of peasants defending themselves. Had they used bullets it would be easily identified as government work as only the government could afford bullets.
The massacre was henceforth known as El Corte, the cutting, alluding to the machetes, or the Parsley Massacre and people living in the far north west of the Dominican Republic at that time remember hundreds of Haitian body parts being washed up on the beaches.

Jewish refugees in Sosua

There was condemnation of the Parsley Massacre and to try and improve his international popularity, whilst at the same time continue with his plan to ‘whiten’ the Dominican population, Trujillo offered to take Jewish refugees.


Around 5000 arrived, however many left for the US and the 700 who remained founded the community of Sosua. Unfortunately for Trujillo many were married and of those who were not, very few went on to marry Dominicans, so his ‘whitening’ plan did not succeed.


Known as El Jefe meaning the Boss, he was a total megalomaniac. He changed the name of the capital from Santo Domingo to Cuidad Trujillo; the name of the highest mountain from Pico Duarte to Pico Trujillo. He insisted that churches use the slogan, “Dios en cielo, Trujillo en tierra” which means “God in heaven, Trujillo on earth.”  He had an insatiable sexual appetite and people would try and send their daughters away, rather than risk them being taken by Trujillo. Refusal to hand over your daughter resulted in death.

The Mirabel sisters

By the late 1950s, opposition to Trujillo's regime was starting to build to a fever pitch. A younger generation of Dominicans began to call for democracy which was met with even greater repression. However, the repression began to lead to international condemnation and the Venezuelan president, Romulo Betancourt was outspoken against him. Trujillo responded by arranging for an assassination attempt, a car bombing which injured but did not kill Betancourt. This incident inflamed world opinion and diplomatic relations were severed by many countries. Trujillo became increasingly paranoid and on Friday November 25 1960 he gave the order to murder the three Mirabel sisters, Patria, Maria Teresa and Minerva. The sisters, known as the Butterflies after Minerva’s underground code name, were outspoken opponents of Trujillo and were beaten to death. Trujillo had now become an embarrassment to the USA, whose Secretary of State had previously said, “He may be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch.”


On May 30 1961, whilst driving to the home of his mistress in San Cristobal, Trujillo’s car was ambushed and a wounded Trujillo exited the car in order to fire back at his attackers. He was subsequently riddled with bullets, and killed. Some say the Americans were behind the assassination, given he was such an embarrassment; others say it was organized from within the country with no external assistance.

Trujillo's car after the ambush

Supporters of Trujillo claim that he reorganized both the country and the economy. He built roads, schools, ports, airports, infrastructure, and paid off all the foreign debt.   They say his rule saw more stability and prosperity than most living Dominicans had previously known. And even today, in fact more often as crime increases, he is seen as a guardian of law and discipline, and more and more people are saying, “What we need is another Trujillo”. They speak with fondness about the fact you could leave money lying in the street and no one would take it. There is a growing nostalgia for the social order he imposed.

Monument at the spot where Trujillo was assassinated

His opponents claim that civil rights and freedoms in the Trujillo era were virtually nonexistent, and much of the country's wealth wound up in the hands of his family or close associates. It cannot be denied however that this one man had a profound influence on the Dominican Republic.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Voting in Dominican Presidential Election

We are now only three weeks away from election day on Sunday 20 May, when the Dominicans will go to the polls to vote for a new President. There are polls coming out almost every day, and some have one side winning and some the other. Whichever way it goes it looks like it will be close.


Turn outs are usually quite high, which is surprising as voting is not that easy. In order to vote you need your cedula or identity card, which everyone has at age 18. On the back of the cedula is printed where you must go to vote, your voting station, and it has nothing to do with where you live now, but where you obtained your cedula. So many people have to travel miles to vote. By law, employers must give employees time off to vote, hence the reason the election is held on a Sunday, but in tourist areas such as Punta Cana and Bavaro on the east coast, it can cause problems for the hotels as the staff usually have to go and vote quite a long way away. Some people do change their cedula when they move to another part of the country, and are therefore registered where they now live, but the majority do not. So the weekend of 19 and 20 May will be chaotic with Dominicans all over the country returning to where they were when they were 18. It is a good excuse for a party.


The voting stations are usually in schools or other public buildings and are manned by election staff who are supposed to be a combination of all the main parties. There will also be a heavy police and military presence to ensure no violence. Neither the police nor the military are allowed to vote in the elections. In order to ensure that their supporters vote, the party activists will arrange for buses to pick up the people to vote from their homes, especially the outlying villages. Often one side will book all the buses in the area, making it hard for the opposition to transport their supporters. Many of the voters will expect to be paid for their vote, supposedly to cover their food, or someone to look after the children. The going rate will vary from 200 pesos (around US$6) to 500 pesos. Often there will be armed guards on the buses to stop people from the other parties getting on the bus.

The ballot paper

Once at the voting station, there will be long queues outside and everyone lines up and hurls insults at those voting for the other side. Many will dress in the party colours, and wear party baseball caps - no secret ballot here! The activists will walk up and down the queue looking after their voters, giving them food and bottles of water. Once inside the name and cedula are checked off, the voter gets his or her ballot paper and votes. The ballot papers are a tad confusing and whilst there are several different parties, there are many alliances, so that a vote for one party will be a vote for one of the two main presidential candidates. Many of the electorate cannot read, hence a photograph of the candidates is also on the form.


There are all sorts of shenanigans which go on. The most common is that people will sell their cedula to the opposite party from that they would vote for. Depending on the level of desperation, depends on the amount. As the day progresses, if the exit polls are not looking good, the losing party will pay thousands and even millions of pesos to 'buy' cedulas meaning the loss of one vote for the other party, and then will get someone to vote using the cedula, the gain of a vote for them. The police try to watch out for this, and several people will be arrested. It is easy to obtain another cedula after the elections, and some people are organised and obtain several duplicates beforehand, which should net them a hefty profit on election day.

Once the voting stations are closed, the votes are counted and then a form produced called an Acta. This has the number of votes per candidate on it. The details from the Acta are then entered into an electronic voting machine which transmits them automatically to the Central Electoral Court. Results are usually known by 10pm the same night. Amazingly efficient really. The great thing about election day though, is that as the voting stations need electricity to function - lighting, fans and of the course the machine at the end, that the whole country should have power all day long!


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

You say goodbye and I say hello

I am sure the Beatles must have come to the Dominican Republic when they wrote that song.

The Dominicans must be the most friendly nation on earth, and whenever you pass someone in the street, the least you do is say "hello" or wrinkle your nose or shake their hand. However, I have noticed that when I say 'hola' the response is "adios" which means goodbye. I suppose there is no less reason to say goodbye as opposed to hello as you are walking past someone, but I am not sure if I am supposed to say "adios" too.

There are a whole range of other greetings. I could say "buen dia" which means good day, or, more likely, shorten it to "buenos". I could say "entonces" which means "so", but you don't wait for the answer. Another option would be "Que dice ese hombre?" which means "what does this man say?" I have heard men use that more than women so I haven't tried that one yet.

Often people will say,"Como va todo?" which is "How is everything?"


But what I really want to know when I walk past someone is if I say hello should the response be goodbye, or hello. And should I say goodbye instead of hello?

Anyone know the answer?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

S is for Semana Santa

For letter S in my A-Z of the Dominican Republic there were lots of options, but I decided on Semana Santa meaning Holy Week or Easter Week, which is an integral part of Dominican culture.

Easter to me in England meant a long weekend, munching on Easter eggs. No Easter eggs here, instead people eat habichuelas con dulce - beans in a sweet sauce.



My first Easter week here I was working on the beach as a scuba diving instructor and the owner of the dive school told me that there would be no diving from the Thursday to the Sunday of Semana Santa, nor boats in the water. I assumed that it was because the Dominican Republic is a Catholic country and every one would be at church. How wrong I was.  The reason that no boats are allowed in the water is because there is no room for them.


The normally quiet beaches become invaded as Dominicans leave their homes in droves and go to the beach or the river and party. And do they party. They start eating and drinking on the Wednesday afternoon or maybe the Thursday and don't stop until Sunday night. The whole country is one big party.


Managing the party is a tad difficult and so the government introduces a whole range of measures to try and keep things more or less under control. They close around 170 of the more dangerous beaches and swimming spots and over 35,000 members of the police and civil defense are on duty all over the country. Motorcyclists are mandated to wear helmets and there should only be 2 people on a bike. The passenger doesn't have to wear a helmet though.


Heavy vehicles are banned from the roads from Thursday at noon to early Monday morning to try and cut down on the number of accidents.


Even in the barrios, if people cannot get to the rivers or the ocean, they set up little plastic swimming pools in the street or their yard, and pretend they are on the beach, sitting in them and drinking all day.


Unfortunately even with all these measures, during Semana Santa many people always lose their lives. This year 38 people died, 31 in traffic accidents, 3 alcohol poisoning and 4 drowned. An additional 986 were injured; 687 in traffic accidents, 264 due to alcohol poisoning and 36 food poisoning. You really do take your life in your hands if you venture out onto the roads as so many people drive when they are drunk.


Not everyone parties, and there are some beautiful processions in the streets and many people do go to church.


It also seems strange to me that on the one hand there is this massive party going on, but on the other hand the Dominicans have some strict rules in deference to the Christian meaning of Semana Santa. For example there is no loud music allowed at all - the barrio became silent for four days. No meat is eaten on Good Friday, the colmado sold out of bacalao (dried salted cod) and arenque (dried herring). And a friend of mine sells barbecued pigs and had an order for one for a wedding on Easter Saturday which would mean killing the pig on the Friday. No one would do it. You cannot slaughter animals on Good Friday. So the pig had to meet his Maker on the Thursday and he spent Good Friday in her jacuzzi covered with ice and towels before being barbecued on the Saturday!

.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Introduction to Dominican Politics - the caravana

There will be an election for a new President of the Dominican Republic on 20 May - only a month away, and there is no one living here who is not aware of it. I thought, therefore that those who read the blog and who are not up to date with the ins and outs of Dominican politics might like to learn a little about it, so every so often over the next month I will post on different aspects.

Just as a little background first, there are several political parties but only two main ones, so I will concentrate on those, with apologies to the rest. The two parties are the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) and the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD). Excuse my ignorance but I am not sure what the PLD were/are being liberated from nor the PRD having a revolution against.

Luckily I do not have to explain the manifestos to you, nor which party is more left or right, as it appears there are no manifestos as such and no clear political direction. Both say they will help the poor - which neither have done before, sort out the electricity, again neither party have ever managed to do that, stop corruption, which both parties appear to excel in, etc etc.

So what is the main difference between each party? I think it is the colour - the PLD is purple, with a little gold sometimes, and the PRD are white. If you support either party you have to wear the appropriate colour. If you support the PLD you are called a Peledeista and the PRD a Peredeista. Simple really.

Danilo Medina from the PLD, fetching in purple. Is his security guard texting?
 Given the lack of manifesto, they don't really have a lot to say, so instead of television debates or long speeches or rallies, as far as I can see the major form of campaigning is the caravana and at the moment these are happening nearly every day.

The PRD, white party, caravana
A caravana is basically a long line of cars and motorbikes, which travels through the towns. The front car has the presidential candidate sitting on the roof with his legs through the sun roof. In the case of the PLD it is Danilo Medina and in the case of the PRD, Hipolito Mejia also known as Papa (Daddy). The rest of the front car will be covered with bodyguards hanging off the side. You can tell the bodyguards as they wear baseball caps, sunglasses and are usually very large.  They wear a hat to minimise the risk of being sunburned as these caravanas can go on for hours. Hipolito sensibly wears a cowboy hat, although I have often seen photos of Danilo without a hat so I assume he wears lots of sunscreen.

Hipolito and his sensible hat
Behind the first car are a whole string of other cars, with important people such as Senators, Deputies, Governors and Mayors also perched on the roof of the car with their legs through the sunroof. The person sitting in the back seat of the jipeta (SUV) will usually be charged with holding onto the ankles of the important person when driving fast or over bumpy terrain.

The motorbikes
Following that are even more cars and along side the whole caravana and bringing up the rear are thousands of motorcycles. Most motorcyclists will be holding a flag of the appropriate party and often a bottle of rum as well. There will also be large trucks covered with speakers blasting out the appropriate party song or slogan. The slogan for the PRD is "Llego Papa"  translated as "Here comes Daddy". Apologies but I don't know which slogan the PLD are using this year.


The streets will be lined with thousands of supporters dressed in the appropriate colours, wearing party baseball caps,  and waving party flags, hoping that something worthwhile will be thrown out of the jipetas in the convoy - be it salami, chickens, even money. It is amazingly noisy, hot, dusty, totally chaotic and great fun.

Add caption
Caravanas are not cheap to organise as the local party activists will have to pay for all the flags and hats to issue to the people, plus their transport to get them to the appropriate route, fuel for the jipetas, cars and motorbikes which take part, cold drinks for everyone.

At the end of the route the presidential candidate will usually say a few words and then slither back inside the vehicle and go home ready for the next one the next day. Whilst I can see that they are good fun, although hot and tiring, I haven't yet worked out how they persuade the voters to vote for one particular party.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

R is for Rivers and Rum

In my A-Z of the Dominican Republic we are now on letter R. Rivers and Rum or Rios y Ron.


Going to the river is a Dominican institution and there are several fabulous rivers throughout the country. Many have stunning natural waterfalls and are ideal for a day out - and Dominicans know how to enjoy themselves better than any other nationality I know! The pictures here are from some of my river outings and one from a friend of mine, Dorota who is also married to a Dominican.


The first stage is to get to the river. Some of them you can drive to, but quite often you have to walk, carrying all the provisions for the day, which will include all the cooking pots and of course the rum. I went a while ago with a group of Dominicans and was faced with a hike through the woods and half way up a mountain.


Dorota on her outing didn't have to walk, however I must say her drive to the river looks interesting, but as with everything Dominican, where there is a will there is a way, and nothing will stand in the way of a day out at the river.


The first rule for your day out is to wear the right footwear. Stupid me had no idea we would have to do a six mile jungle trek and wore flip flops. It didn't take long for walking to become impossible, so luckily husband was able to convert himself into a human donkey and carried me. He walked barefoot all the way, as many Domincans are able to, but my sensitive little English feet just couldn't cope with that.


Once you arrive at the river, the first thing is to start cooking. In my experience the women tend to take charge of that while the men go and collect the firewood.  Nothing has changed in the last few thousand years.


Once the fire is ready, the big pans of food start bubbling away. Sometimes rice and sometimes plantains, usually served with stewed chicken. I don't know why, but food cooked outside always tastes so much better. Some river spots, such as Los Patos in Barahona, have little shacks next to the river where you can buy food such as freshly cooked fish which is also delicious, although not quite as adventurous as cooking it yourself.


While the food is cooking, out comes the rum. Most people will take a cooler stuffed with ice and bottles of rum and coca cola or, more recently, cranberry juice. Dorota however can go one better due to her family connections! She has a whole van full of Brugal!


Before lunch most people will go for a dip in the river, taking their rum with them, and the women will usually keep their clothes on. I am told this is as they are modest, maybe it is because they dry quickly as well. Personally  I prefer to wear a bathing suit, as I don't like driving home in soggy knickers. English sensibilities again.


Once dinner is over, the rum continues to be consumed and then while the women carrying on chatting and drinking in the river, the men do what you should always do having drunk  rum all day - go mountain climbing in their knickers.



Once at the top of the rocks there is only one thing left to do which is to throw yourself off, bungee jumping without the bungee, into the shallow water beneath, praying that you will come up alive.


Then as the sun starts to set and the rum runs out, it is time to gather up all of the pots and pans, and I run around putting all the rubbish in a plastic bag to take with us. The Dominicans I have been with don't tend to do this which is a shame as the river spots are so beautiful. And then we wend our way back, some happy from the rum, some more than happy so that the car has to be stopped every so often for a pee or puke.


Rivers and Rum are as Dominican as plantains and dominoes, and if ever you get invited on a river outing, do go, making sure to wear the right shoes. You are promised a fabulous day out with lots of laughter, great food, and beautiful scenery, but just take it easy on the rum!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Integration of expats in the Dominican Republic



I want to understand more about expat integration and whilst I have found  lots of articles on the subject, I think that the Dominican Republic has certain challenges that are not faced in many other countries.


The first is obviously the language. It is not easy to integrate into a society where you cannot speak nor understand the language.

Secondly finding people you want to integrate with. The DR is in many ways a third world country, and unless you work in Santo Domingo or maybe Santiago, it is not easy to find Dominican people of your education and background with whom you have enough in common to form friendships. Some Dominican lawyers are not quite the same as an American or British lawyer for example.


The interesting question I think is, why should you integrate in the first place? Many expats come here to retire, for the weather, cheaper cost of living and the ambiance and are content living in villas in gated communities surrounded by similar people from similar countries. They search for the food they have at home, they watch television from home, they mix almost exclusively with fellow countrymen, and their contact with Dominicans is limited to gardeners, maids and repair services. They make no effort to learn Spanish. I find myself wondering is there anything wrong with this, as they are protecting themselves from the negative side of society here, but they are also missing out on the positive experience that comes from embracing a new culture.

There are those who love being here and there are those who have nothing good to say about the country and its people (the natives as they would say), but enjoy living in their bubble.

Then we have those expats who make an effort to integrate, by maybe working in the country and by making some effort to learn the language. They may still live in expatriate areas but will take an interest in the country, having some Dominican friends, reading Dominican newspapers, possibly belonging to the local neighbourhood group or volunteering to help the community in some way. They will still socialize with other expats and still try to ensure that they have as many things from home as they can.


The third group is those who are totally integrated and I think they will usually be married to a Dominican or have a Dominican partner. Obviously that helps the integration process significantly not only with learning the language, but to understand the culture and to meet and socialise with more Dominicans. They will watch Dominican television, eat Dominican food and rarely socialise with other expats. I think that this group may have a tendency to feel superior to other expats, feeling that they have somehow achieved something by integrating and by giving up the ‘pleasures’ of their former existence. However, I do not think it matters how long they are here, they will never become totally Dominicanised, nor do I think they would want to.

It is said that there are four stages to integration. The first is when you arrive and is the honeymoon phase when you feel euphoric about your new life. Then as time passes you become irritable with the fact that things are not like they are ‘back home’ and become hostile towards the local population, being overcharged for example, and the euphoria turns to anger and resentment. Maybe some of the first group are in this stage and prefer to stay in their expat bubble rather than expose themselves to more frustrations.

The third stage is adjustment when the anger is replaced by a grudging acceptance – of the electricity situation for example. No point in moaning about it as there is nothing you can do to change it, just sort out inverters and generators and make it work as best you can. And the final phase is adaptation which maybe only those who are totally integrated can reach. When you adapt totally to your surroundings with no need to go to international supermarkets, no need to watch anything but Dominican television, or to regularly socialise with other expats.



I think I am probably in the last group but I cannot imagine a time when I will be totally integrated to the extent of losing all of my background. I don’t go to international supermarkets and eat mostly Dominican food, but it doesn't mean that I adore the occasional treat of MacDonalds or Indian curries or cheddar cheese or…I could go on! I watch Dominican news on television, and films in Spanish, but I also watch some British and American television. I speak Spanish all day long, but I write in English and I chat online to my expat friends in English. I have Dominican acquaintances and friends, but I have deeper friendships with expats, albeit mostly online. I feel it is vital to have some access to part of my lifestyle I left behind, albeit minimum.

So I find myself wondering why integrate? There are benefits to the experience but it brings with it the negatives of moving out of your comfort zone. Is it to feel superior, the fact that you can live without air conditioning and enjoy mangu? Is it because you are rejecting your own culture? And for those who have no wish to integrate why not? Do you just strive to know enough to make your day to day lives easier and are completely disinterested in the country? And does that matter?

Any thoughts anyone?


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Manhole covers


Strange word 'manhole'. In Spanish they are called tapa de la alcantarilla which means drain cover and is exactly what they are, rather than a manhole! According to the New York Times, leaders in Sacramento, California decided in 1990 that the word "manhole" was sexist, and the city now calls them "maintenance holes." 




You can see manhole covers wherever you go in the world - apart from the Dominican Republic. They exist here, but are stolen all the time and sold for scrap metal. This is not an occasional occurrence, as soon as they are replaced they are taken again. Luckily the thieves, or the people who live nearby, nearly always put something in the hole to try and stop nasty accidents. Usually they put a tree branch in it.


Or a beer crate in front of it which is no use if you are coming in the other direction!


Piece of concrete.


                                                                  Bits of wood.



There is talk of having plastic covers but I have yet to see one. In the meantime we will just carry on keeping our wits about us when walking in the street or driving!